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August v. Ratliff

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

February 3, 2017

TRACY AUGUST, #714643, Plaintiff,

          David R. Grand Magistrate Judge



         In 2012, Plaintiff Tracy August, a Michigan prisoner, filed this lawsuit based on a shoulder injury she sustained while in the custody of the Michigan Department of Corrections (“MDOC”). August alleged that Defendant-officer Felicia Ratliff ordered her to restrain an inmate having a violent seizure, and when August complied, the inmate slammed her into a railing where August's arm got caught and ripped upward as the two fell to the ground, injuring August's shoulder. August asserted a “failure-to-protect” claim against Ratliff for giving her the order. She also asserted that the medical treatment she received after the injury was constitutionally inadequate. Eventually, the case was dismissed as to all defendants and August filed a notice of appeal.

         The Sixth Circuit largely affirmed the dismissal of August's claims, but reversed and remanded for this Court's consideration of the following issues surrounding Ratliff:

A remand is required . . . with respect to the summary judgment in favor of Officer Ratliff on August's failure-to-protect claim. . . . Because it is unclear based upon the record before this court whether the failure-to-protect claim has been exhausted and because this claim was not addressed by the district court on the merits, this claim must be remanded.

(R. 104, PID 1984.)

         Following remand, this Court requested that the parties submit supplemental briefing on these issues in addition to the motion for summary judgment (R. 24) that Ratliff filed earlier in the case. That briefing is now complete, and the matter is ready for disposition. After careful consideration of the briefs and thorough review of the pleadings, the Court finds that oral argument will not aid in resolving the issues the Sixth Circuit asked the Court to resolve on remand. See E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2). The Court finds that Ratliff is not entitled to summary judgment based on non-exhaustion, nor is Ratliff entitled to qualified immunity. Accordingly, this case will proceed to trial.

         I. BACKGROUND

         August alleged in her Complaint that on August 25, 2009, she was let out of her cell for an hour of recreation time. (R. 1, PID 10.) At that time, she observed another inmate, “Jenks, ” having “one of her violent seizures.” (Id.) According to the Complaint, Jenks was in “a full blown seizure[] swinging her arms violently, snapping her teeth, rolling her eyes into the back of her head, and spinning around incoherently close to the upstairs railing.” (Id.) Holly Patterson, another inmate, avers that she witnessed the situation and says that Jenks was “swinging her arms violently out of control as she was turning in a circular motion” and that other inmates were yelling for an officer because it looked like Jenks might fall down the stairs. (Id. at PID 51.) Patterson avers that Jenks has seizures “on a daily basis” and “has hurt herself many, many times during these seizures.” (Id.) Michelle O'Neil, also an inmate, avers that she too witnessed the situation. (Id. at 54.) O'Neil says that at the time, Jenks was “swinging her arms violently in all directions with her head rolling in different directions.” (Id. at 54.)

         As August came upon the scene, another inmate was yelling for a guard. (Id. at 10.) Defendant-officer Felicia Ratliff came up the stairs towards Jenks and ordered August to “come back and set Jenks down.” (Id.) August hesitated (O'Neil avers that as August approached, Jenks “began to swing her arms at inmate August and snap[] her teeth trying to bite August.” (Id. at 54)) but complied with the order. (Id. at 10.) As August attempted to help Jenks to the ground, Jenks threw her body backwards against the upstairs railing, where August's arm was caught and yanked upwards while pinned under Jenks's body. (Id. at PID 11.) August asked Ratliff for help but Ratliff did nothing. (Id.) August remained pinned for approximately two minutes. (Id.) August avers that she had previously witnessed Jenks seizing in Ratliff's presence, and that Ratliff had never attempted to assist Jenks. (R. 1, PID 47.) August's complaint included several affidavits from other inmates which support her account of what happened that day. These include notarized affidavits from Michelle O'Neil (R. 1, PID 54) and Holly Patterson (R. 1, PID 51); and non-notarized affidavits from “Rollston, ” (R. 1, PID 55), Virginia Helsel (R. 1, PID 57), “K. Wanna” (R. 1, PID 58), and Jenks (R. 1, PID 48).

         Additionally, Lana McCarthy, the Acting Health Unit Manager, avers that “[P]risoner August #714643 was seen on August 28, 2009, for left shoulder pain. Prisoner August #714643 stated she was ordered by an officer to help an inmate while having a seizure.” (R. 24-4, PID 423.) McCarty did not say, however, whether August identified any officer in particular. (Id.)

         August filed several grievances regarding her injury and subsequent treatment. Relevant here are Grievance Numbers 09-08-3352-03B, in which August asserted that Ratliff gave her an “unreasonable direct order” (R. 9, PID 127), and 09-09-3582-03D, in which August asserted that she had suffered mental distress and physical injury after being ordered to restrain Jenks (R. 9, PID 133). The parties dispute whether August pursued these grievances to completion under the applicable MDOC policy.

         Ratliff, for her part, avers that she “do[es] not recall this specific incident regarding prisoner August.” (R. 24-2, PID 416.) She further avers, “I have learned through my training that you are not to restrain a seizing person. I would not have given a prisoner that order.” (Id.)

         At issue on remand are: (1) whether August exhausted her administrative remedies for her failure-to-protect claim against Ratliff, and (2) if so, whether Ratliff is entitled to qualified immunity.

         II. ...

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